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Artificial sweeteners, those witches disguised behind delicious sweet smiles that hide a menacing intention to totally mess with your health.
Most of us are aware of the negative effects of eating too much sugar, especially “added sugars”, the kind you find in fizzy drinks, sweets, baked goods, and many commercially-available kinds of cereal.
Hiding in just about everything our detective powers are put to the test to sniff it out. If the sugar industry has anything to do with it, we will continue to ignorantly gobble that stuff up. With 9 teaspoons of sugar in one Coke, we quickly work through kilos of the white drug every year.
Eating refined sugar spikes your blood sugar and insulin levels. It also increases your risk of a whole host of health issues.
Enter Artificial Sweeteners
Those sweet-smiling witches are one of the food industry’s responses to the demand for lower-calorie foods that still taste great.
The idea behind these sugar substitutes is that you satisfy your sweet tooth, without the calories. Magic!
Think Pepsi Max, Diet Cola and many others. Theoretically, we could maintain healthy body weight, and not increase anyone’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, or obesity.
Things don’t always work out the way we think they will. Kind of like that dream of a tidy 14-year-olds bedroom or you will arrive home and a meal will magically appear on the table!
Types of artificial sweeteners
Sugar substitutes fall into several categories, but what they all have in common is a sweet taste and fewer calories than the white table sugar we are familiar with.
Today we’ll specifically discuss “artificial sweeteners,” or, to put it another way, synthetic chemicals where a tiny bit tastes very sweet.
They’re also known as “non-nutritive sweeteners,” and include:
- Saccharin (Sweet & Low),
- Acesulfame potassium,
- Aspartame (Equal & NutraSweet), and
- Sucralose (Splenda).
Health effects of artificial sweeteners
I need to tell you a story, I recently discovered sugar-free Marshmallows.
Sweetened with Maltitol I thought if I only have them very occasionally I would be good. I bought one bag and ate half one day and half the next.
I seriously paid the price. My stomach spent a day gurgling and erupting which came to an explosive end in the littlest room of the house. It took two days to return to normal.
I also had to rebuild the good bacteria in my gut. NEVER AGAIN!
Keeping our gut bacteria balanced is central to keeping our hormones balanced. Balance hormones are central to good health.
While many studies of these sweeteners demonstrate the effects, others lack a clear conclusion. Cancer? Maybe yes, maybe no. Heart disease? Maybe yes, maybe no. Much of the research has been on animals, which may or may not translate to people.
One noticeable piece of data: people who drink diet sodas have double the risk of gaining weight than those who don’t.
Another study has shown an increased risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes for those who consume diet drinks every day.
While these results don’t apply equally to all those that drink soda how ironic the very thing that was introduced to mitigate the effects consuming too much sugar is doing the exact opposite?
How do artificial sweeteners affect our bodies?
Now that’s the million-dollar question!
There is no definitive answer:
- Do we put on weight because when we know that there are fewer calories so we eat more?
- Perhaps the sweeteners change our taste preferences, so fruit starts to taste rubbish, and veggies are revolting?
- Maybe artificial sweeteners increase our cravings for the real stuff?
- Does the sweet taste of these sweeteners signal our body to release insulin to lower our blood sugar? Then when our blood sugar levels get too low, we go through sugar cravings.
- It is suggested (and at least one animal test puts forward) that saccharin may ignite addictive tendencies toward it.
- Maybe there is even a more complex response that involves our gut microbes and how they help to regulate our blood sugar levels.
Sugar is not good for you, but the solution may not be to replace it with artificial sweeteners.
I recommend reducing your sugar intake. Naturally, re-train your palate to start enjoying the taste of real food that isn’t overly sweet.
If you need to use a sweetener try using a plant-based sugar derivative such as Stevia, or one of the sugar alcohols like Xylitol or Erythritol. These will have less of a negative physical effect.
Once your tastebuds change you will be amazed at what tastes sweet and the small taste of your friends Triple Chocolate Brownie will not leave you feeling like you missed out.
Have ½ teaspoon less of sugar in your hot morning drink.
Reduce the sugar called for in some recipes.
Try diluting juice with water.
Your body will thank you!
Recipe (naturally sweetened): Sweet Enough Matcha Latte
- 1 teaspoon matcha powder
- 1.5 cup almond milk, unsweetened
- 1-2 teaspoons maple syrup or honey (optional)
- Heat almond milk and maple syrup/honey (if using) in a small pot.
- Add matcha powder to cup.
- When almond milk is hot, add about a ¼ cup to matcha and stir to combine.
- Add rest of the milk to the cup.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can steep a chai tea bag in the milk if you prefer chai tea over matcha.